School district leaders often turn to private companies to save money and improve support services. The proportion of districts that hire private companies to provide food, custodial and transportation services has increased from 31.0% in 2001 to 69.2% in 2022, according to the Mackinac Center’s survey of school districts.
Contracting out slightly decreased from 69.6% of districts in 2021.The rate has stayed around these levels since 2015 when 69.7% of districts contracted out.
School districts that both contracted out and brought services back in-house tended to cite staffing concerns as the reason for the change. Officials dissatisfied with their ability to recruit support staff contracted out, and officials dissatisfied with outsourced support staff brought services back in-house.
A respondent from one district commented, “We do not expect to save money but are expecting this company to attract and retain enough staff to keep our buildings clean.” Another respondent said, “It was not an issue of trying to save money, although I think we may save some, it was an issue of quality. There was tremendous turnover from the third party and the quality of the service was extremely poor.”
The survey includes responses from 535 school districts, all but four of the districts. The Mackinac Center has conducted this survey in 2001, 2003 and every year since 2005.
Of the 539 school districts in the state, 373 of them contract out for food, custodial or transportation services. This is down two districts from the previous year. Contracting increased from 35.5% of districts in 2005 to around 70% of districts in 2015 and has remained at those levels since.
School districts contract out food services at a slightly higher rate than they did last year. There were seven districts that contracted out the service in 2022. Five districts brought the service back in-house.
Food service had been the most frequently contracted service in 2005 and gradually increased to 43% of districts in 2015. Contracting of food service has remained at these rates since.
There are fewer districts that contract out custodial services in 2022. While 48.4% of districts outsource custodial service, 20 districts brought the service back in-house, while six districts moved to outsourced services.
Few districts contracted out custodial services in 2005, but many districts looked to private contractors to save money from 2005 to 2015, when over half of all districts contracted out to clean and maintain district buildings. Since then, contracting has decreased to 48.4% of districts.
Transportation contracting remained at 29.7% of school districts in 2022. Seven districts contracted out services and seven districts brought services back in-house.
Transportation contracting increased from 3.8% of districts in 2005 to 25.6% in 2015. Unlike contracting out for food and custodial services, transportation contracting has increased from 2015 to 2021, with 21 more districts contracting out the service than bringing it back in-house.
Clarifications from respondents increased the previous year’s custodial service contracting by one district.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.
Get insightful commentary and the most reliable research on Michigan issues sent straight to your inbox.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
Please consider contributing to our work to advance a freer and more prosperous state.